These past months have been a whirlwind of shocking sexual harassment allegations against men who many find important and admirable. While the outcry is new and noteworthy, the actual acts are nothing out of the ordinary. You probably even experienced some form of harassment in your working days, or at least were exposed to it in some manner. In fact, very few of the Baby Boomer generation didn’t find his or herself in the midst of inappropriate behavior. The difference between then and now is what happens after the incident.
Generational norms become apparent in situations like these. The outcry has some Boomers scratching their heads. In our day, this kind of outing wouldn’t have happened. Not that we don’t find solace in the publicizing of these terrible men, but suddenly we’re in a world that’s very different from the one we’ve always known. We’re experiencing a cultural shift.
Men like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK have abused their power, and now even high powered lawyers can’t protect these men. Weinstein had a notorious history of making these accusations “go away” with a crackerjack legal team, who paid off women to keep quiet. The issue, though, lies in Weinstein’s power. This is a man who is responsible for making some of our favorite movies. As an independent film distributor, he even had the artistic panache that studios won’t often indulge, for interest in guaranteed ticket sales.
But behavior like Weinstein’s could only be covered up for so long. The extensive list of women he’d abused is nothing short of appalling. As far as we’re concerned, though, it’s also not too surprising. How many women in our generation have tolerated the unwelcome advancement of men in the workplace? Look at the popular television show, Mad Men, which did a good job of showing the real corporate environment in the 1960s. Remember Family Feud? Go look at some old reruns, it’s a little shocking how the women were treated, and they were only game show contestants!
Our Norms Created Our Laws
While we Boomers would have merely shrugged off an unwelcome comment or touch, this was just an unsavory part of what happened at work, we were the generation of women’s lib. We were the first women in the workplace, and we set the first guidelines. In fact, the harassment laws were established because of how men treated us. It just took (a long) time to catch up. What’s happening here could be viewed as an inevitability based on the example we made.
Gen X grew up watching the Anita Hill trial, and in some ways that dictated how they react to harassment. While not as quick to act as Millennials, Gen X women were the doctors, the lawyers, and the politicians setting an example for the younger generation. They were upholding our laws, and they were breaking through the glass ceiling, slowly.
The Millennial generation took note. Inequality isn’t something this generation grew up with, and we ensured that would be the case. Harassment, then, is not acceptable to this confident group of women who want their voices heard. Respect! And once they opened the door, the flood came through, from women of all generations.
What’s to Come
Interestingly, Millennial women are not as quick to register harassment as Boomers. Here’s why: the Boomers experienced blatant, overt, public misconduct. Now, that’s definitely not tolerated these days. Harassment now comes in the form of comments, in observations. Mr. Weinstein’s actions are certainly over the top, but those circumstances were in privacy, unlike when we were working.
What’s more, female sexuality is brutalized all around this generation. In music, movies, television, magazines, pornography, and social media, there’s a desensitizing that’s occurred. Interesting, since these women are so quick to call out what’s wrong, yet they dance to music that promotes just the attitudes they dismiss. They feel it’s just a song, but of course, it comes from a bigger place. There’s the older generation talking again.
Men like Mr. Weinstein, and many before him, pulled the strings on an entire industry. His taste and sense, despite his hideous conduct, were influential. Still, he chose his cast, his stories, his world of choice to show. Now, the door is open for a more diverse conversation. Art, politics, ideas will soon find new voices, and they won’t be ones of dominant, power-hungry men. They’ll be of men and women, and from all ethnicities. This kind of speaking out may not have been appropriate, or frankly even noticed when we were coming along, but our grandchildren seem to have learned a thing or two from our example. Maybe their reactions aren’t too far off the mark, after all.